The Dell Inspiron M101z laptop is an 11.6in, 1.55kg ultraportable model that's suitable for travellers or students who want something affordable, small and easy to transport. It's not very powerful, but its AMD Athlon II Neo K125 CPU has enough grunt to easily handle office applications and Internet-based tasks.
Need something bigger? Check out our round-up of the best 13in notebooks of 2010.
The AMD Athlon II Neo K125 CPU is a single-core CPU, so it's not capable of handling multiple tasks as well as a dual-core CPU can (unlike the Core i3-380UM CPU in the Fujitsu LifeBook T-Series (TH550), for example), but it's still decent enough for basic workloads such as running office suites, Web browsers, photo editors and media players. The rest of the configuration includes 2GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 7200rpm, 320GB hard drive and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics.
With this configuration, you get a notebook that is approximately twice as fast as a typical netbook. It recorded times of 4min and 3min 48sec in our Blender 3D rendering and MP3 encoding tasks, respectively, and its hard drive delivered a speed of 24.65 megabytes per second, which is an average result. Like a netbook, you won't want to use the Dell Inspiron M101z for many media encoding tasks — it was especially slow in our media transcoding test, where it took over 3hr to convert a DVD file into a 1.5GB Xvid file.
The Inspiron M101z trumps a typical netbook in performance and because of its size, it's much more enjoyable to use than a netbook — this is due to the extra inch of screen space and the larger keyboard and touchpad. However, there are some aspects of the M101z that are annoying, in particular its 1366x768-resolution, 11.6in screen. The display is way too reflective to be used outdoors without driving you crazy; it's also too bright to be used comfortably in a dark environment. We also found it to be poor at reproducing light colour shades, which meant that subtle colours in some photos and Web pages were drowned out.
The glossy finish of the notebook collects more fingerprints than the local cop shop and the palm rest can feel a little sticky when you type for long periods of time. On the plus side, the keyboard feels good and it has large keys. The F-keys' primary functions are to change the brightness and volume of the notebook, which we like, but it may trip users who are used to hitting the F5 key to refresh a Web browser, for example. The touchpad is a good size and it performed accurately in our tests, and it also supports two-finger gestures for scrolling and zooming.
A vent is located on the left side of the laptop and you'll want to keep it clear at all times, otherwise the chassis will get noticeably warm. It doesn't get warm to the point where it becomes too uncomfortable to use though, and we imagine that in winter you probably won't even notice the warmth at all.
One area in which the Inspiron M101z impressed was its battery life. Its 6-cell, 56 Watt-hour battery lasted 3hr 26min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. It's not as good as the battery life on the 11in Fujitsu LifeBook T Series tablet-convertible notebook, but it's better than the life of the Sony VAIO Y Series 11in notebook. You can get more life out of it if you only use the notebook for writing documents and viewing Web pages while the screen brightness is low and by employing a power profile that switches the screen off when the notebook is idle.
Overall, the Dell Inspiron M101z is a dependable little 11.6in laptop that's comfortable to use for the most part and it has decent features — including 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI, VGA, three USB 2.0 ports, a webcam, and 10/100 Ethernet. We think it's a good choice for anyone who wants an inexpensive ultraportable, but one with better performance and usability than a typical 10in netbook. We just wish it had a better screen, but we shouldn't really complain about it considering the notebook's sub-$650 price.
Check out more Dell reviews, including the popular Dell Inspiron 15R and the Dell XPS 17.
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